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Lawmakers Respond To Possible Teacher Walkout

Mar 19, 2018

In this March 8 story, Oklahoma Watch reporters contacted all 35 representatives who voted against the Step Up Oklahoma plan to ask them if the potential for a widespread teacher walkout made them reconsider their votes or their opposition to Step Up and other similar revenue plans. Here’s what the 17 lawmakers who responded said.

 

Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman (via Twitter)

“I fully support this bold funding ask for teachers, support personnel, and classroom funding. The only way to pay for this is a bold revenue plan that includes a substantial increase in the gross production tax to at least 5 percent.”

Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater (via Twitter)

“Hey teachers, it’s not enough to demand a pay raise. It matters where the money comes from. If I give you a $10,000 raise but take $7,000 through manipulation of the tax code, that’s net $3,000 and you don’t have a lot to show except the press release we send out.”

Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw (emailed statement)

 “I do agree with reallocating funds from wasteful spending to help fund a $5,000 teacher pay raise.   That would put Oklahoma teacher pay at the 5th highest in the US, when adjusting for cost of living.  There are several bills pending now to cumulatively reach and exceed the $260 million necessary for that $5000 teacher pay raise, without a tax increase.  … Raising taxes before we ensure the current tax money is being spent right is equivalent to having a hole in the bottom of the boat, water pouring in, and trying to dip the water out with a bucket in hopes of not sinking.”

Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa (phone interview)

“We’re not lacking on solutions. We’re lacking on agreement, and I think that if the folks that have the least are expected to pay the most, that’s not a plan I’m willing to get behind. I think it’s just reasonable to expect to the wealthiest industry in the world to start paying a higher gross production tax. … (Teachers) deserve to be heard.”

Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City (emailed statement)

“I haven’t rethought my vote on Step Up because I still believe it was a deeply flawed plan. But as I tried to make very clear in my debate against it, I firmly believe teachers need a $10,000 raise to make us competitive, and a $15,000 raise to make us the envy of other states in our region. … I have supported from the start, and will continue to support revenue measures like 7 percent, or even 5 percent gross production tax, and the restoration of the income tax cuts that have happened over the last several years.”

Rep. Jeff Coody, R-Grandfield (emailed statement)

“I am 100 percent in favor of giving Oklahoma’s teachers a pay raise, but I am absolutely opposed to taxing Oklahomans excessively in order to pay for that raise. I would be in favor of sending any individual tax proposals to a vote of the people to let them decide what they’re willing to bear to pay for a raise. … I am hopeful that there will be no walk out as I do not think that will help our students and ultimately will damage education in the eyes of the public.”

Rep. Colin Walke, D-Oklahoma City (phone interview)

“We can’t go back in time and nor was there a strike on the table. Now that it’s here, I still don’t think that Step Up is the right plan. … I think the lynchpin for any plan has to see an increase in the gross production tax on oil.”

Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa (phone interview)

“My hope is that with this additional pressure we feel the need to fund things appropriately. … I have a hard time criticizing teachers who have continued to fight for a long time. I support them in what they’re doing.”

Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore (emailed statement)

“I do agree with reallocating funds from wasteful spending to help fund a $5,000 teacher pay raise.  That would put Oklahoma teacher pay at the 5th highest in the US, when adjusting for cost of living.  There are several bills pending now to cumulatively reach and exceed the $260 million necessary for that $5,000 teacher pay raise, without a tax increase.  … I would also have been willing to send the Step Up Oklahoma tax proposal to a vote of the people.  As far as different revenue packages, I haven’t heard anything specific, but I look at each proposal individually and based on its own merits. ”

Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha (emailed statement)

“The Step Up Plan was never a good plan. It was calculated to take the pressure off attempts to increase GPT to a level that is reasonable. It was also a punitive attempt to chill the development of renewable energy in Oklahoma. Finally, it was not a solution. It simply took the pressure off of my attempts to increase teacher pay to reasonable levels and did not properly fund education costs. I voted against the Step Up Plan and would do so again.”

Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City (emailed statement)

“I do agree with reallocating funds from wasteful spending to help fund a $5000 teacher pay raise.  That would put Oklahoma teacher pay at the 5th highest in the US, when adjusting for cost of living.  There are several bills pending now to cumulatively reach and exceed the $260 million necessary for that $5000 teacher pay raise, without a tax increase.  … I would also have been willing to send the Step Up Oklahoma tax proposal to a vote of the people, but it is not right for politicians to force people to pay more in taxes without letting the people vote on it.”

Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa (phone interview)

“Oklahoma’s perpetual crisis is not due to the fact that middle-income families and the working poor aren’t paying enough taxes. The reason we’re in a perpetual crisis is Gov. Fallin and her allies in the Legislature have cut income taxes and gross production taxes. … We’re going to have one shot at getting the right revenue package this session, and it needs to bring in the right revenue. In my view, Step Up Oklahoma was not that plan and didn’t go far enough.”

Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs (phone interview)

“We’re still searching for a revenue package that will address the needs in education beyond a teacher pay increase. That was a big reason I was against Step Up. It didn’t address 4-day weeks, more classroom funding or attracting new teachers. … Everybody wants raises but nobody wants to be specific on how we get there; it would have been nice if (The Oklahoma Education Association) had finished the equation.”

Rep. Tom Gann, R-Inola (phone interview)

“If that vote came up again today, I would fvote against it. It was just taking money out of one pocket to put it in another. It was on behaviors with the cigarette tax but it was also a tax on gas and that will cost every teacher who even is a nonsmoker. I think the walkout was a  little premature and I would’ve rather them wait for us to consider some things that are still on the table. There are a lot of creative ways we can that done. Oklahoma is also on the move and our economy is just getting stronger.”

 

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. More Oklahoma Watch content can be found at www.oklahomawatch.org.

Rep. Matt Meredith, D-Tahlequah (emailed statement)

“The Step Up Plan did not put one new dollar into our schools.  Our teachers deserve a raise, and I believe it needs to be more than $5,000.  Our schools deserve better funding.  The only way we get there is to restore the gross production tax to seven percent. It’s time for the Oklahoma Legislature to show we care more for our teachers and our schools than we do about the big oil companies.”

Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City (phone interview)

“(Step Up Oklahoma) was not the correct package. … I agree with the message of the teachers. I’m really glad they’ve decided to come together and really take a stand for their profession.”

Rep. Carl Newton, R-Cherokee (emailed statement)

“I wasn’t there for the vote. However, earlier we had a proposal that was better. It was call the A+ plan. I say it was better in it received 71 votes which is much higher than step up. It was even being opposed by oil and gas raising to 4%. I think this plan has the best chance to succeed if anything could pass.”